When the reality of your son’s or daughter’s injuries settle in, you will face the prospect of starting a whole new chapter of your life — one you hadn’t expected. Becoming your adult child’s caregiver will affect you emotionally and physically. You may feel overwhelmed by all that is involved and wonder how you will keep it all together. At the same time, you may be mourning the loss of your old life and the life you had envisioned for your son or daughter.
How you may be feeling
It's common to experience many different emotions when a loved one requires long-term care at home, including:
- Grief - It's natural to mourn the loss of your child's good health, as well as your own expectations of what you had hoped your child's future would be like.
- Anxiety - You may be anxious that you won't be up to the task of caring for your son or daughter. You may also worry that you won't be able to keep up with medical and household expenses.
- Fear - You may be afraid that this won't be a temporary situation and that you won't be able to cope or manage if it becomes a more permanent arrangement.
- Anger - You didn't choose to be your adult child's caregiver. It's normal to feel angry about being expected to handle this role.
- Isolation - There may be times when you feel very much alone and like nobody else could possibly understand what you are going through. As a result, you may not share with others what your concerns are or what you’re actually thinking and feeling.
- Guilt - It’s common to feel burdened by this new role even though you love your child very much and want to help with the challenges ahead.
When to seek help
It’s normal to experience feelings of grief, anxiety, fear, anger, isolation and guilt when you are caring for someone you love. But if any of these feelings persist or feel overwhelming, it’s important to speak with a mental-health professional about getting help. Warning signs that you may be depressed or under too much stress include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, interrupted sleep or oversleeping
- Overeating or not eating enough, weight loss or weight gain
- Self-medicating or drinking too much alcohol
- Roughly treating or neglecting your son or daughter
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
- Persistent physical symptoms that don't respond to treatment
- Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
Seek professional help immediately if you or your loved one talks about or has thoughts of death or suicide. You can contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255.
Learning about your loved one's condition and available resources
Caring for a person with special needs is demanding and often frustrating. Caregivers who learn what help is available for their loved ones and how to access that help tend to feel more in control of a difficult situation.
- Educate yourself about your son's or daughter's condition. This will allow you to ask health care providers the right questions, to anticipate your son’s or daughter’s needs and to react appropriately when issues arise.
- Learn to communicate with members of the health care profession. . Be sure to write down questions on a running list, and refer to the list when you speak with your son’s or daughter’s health care provider. Think about having a friend or family member go with you to meetings with health care providers. It can be difficult to understand and absorb everything you’re being told.
- Learn the routines of your son's or daughter's medical facilities. Ask about office hours and the best time to reach the health care provider.
- Keep good records. Have a central place, such as a notebook, where you can keep telephone numbers, email addresses of doctors and other care providers, and additional pertinent information. Be sure to write down the names and doses of your son’s or daughter’s medications to bring with you to health care appointments, as well.
- Learn about assistive devices. Many resources are available through the Internet and from associations such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America, United Spinal Association, and the Amputee Coalition of America. For computer assistive technology, you can also consult the Department of Defense's Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program.
- Take advantage of supportive and skilled-care assistance. Different levels of assistance that may be available including home nursing care, home care aides and nursing assistants, who can help with activities of daily living.
- Find out about benefits available through the military, Department of Veterans Affairs and elsewhere.
Taking care of yourself
Your own health and well-being may be the last thing on your mind, but if you're feeling drained, you may become impatient, irritable or at risk of making poor decisions.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. You may enjoy preparing your son’s meals, but dread helping him shave. If that’s the case, ask someone more skilled to take over that task for you if possible. There are professionals, such as beauticians and podiatrists, who will make home visits to attend to your son’s or daughter’s needs.
- Take breaks. Caregiving is all-consuming and demanding work. It’s important to give yourself down time to restore your energy and refresh your attitude. Even a long walk or a night out at the movies can take the edge off. But also look for longer getaways, such as a day or weekend away if possible.
- Take care of your own health needs. Make appointments (and keep them) for check-ups or when you’re feeling sick.
- Learn to lift properly. If lifting is part of your caregiving routine, have someone show you how to do it without damaging your back.
- Create a team of professionals to help you. To the extent that you can, assemble a team of professionals (health care professionals, financial and legal planners, etc.) to rely on.
- Accept help. Neighbors, friends, family members or co-workers may have asked how they can help. Accept their offers and give them specific tasks, such as cooking meals, picking up groceries or doing laundry.
- Hold a family meeting. Call together other children and family members, even if they live far away, to discuss your injured son’s or daughter’s needs. Determine how each family member can contribute, either through direct care or by taking on specific household chores and responsibilitiesies.
- Ask people to visit. Having company can lift your spirits and your loved one's, too.
- Set realistic expectations for your son or daughter and yourself. No one is able to do anything perfectly at all times. This is true for caretaking and recovery, too.
- Connect with other caregivers. Whether it's a formal support group or an informal network of other caregivers, having people to turn to can ease feelings of isolation and stress. People in similar situations can truly understand what you're going through as well as what might be ahead. You can also visit online resources such as the National Family Caregivers Association and the Family Caregivers Alliance.
- Get professional help. It's important to get objective help for your ongoing stress, frustrations and sadness. There are counselors and therapists - even those who specialize in dealing with being a family member's caregiver - who can help.
You can also find information on the Department of Veterans Affairs Caregiver Support website. It provides comprehensive resources for caregivers, including links to other websites, and a caregiver tool box with checklists, information for those new to caregiving, and organizing tools for all those documents you have to manage. You can also access their caregiver support line at 855-260-3274.